Move Over, Meiji-En and Assaggio, Make Room For Eleni’s

The Dining Report – Eleni’s Estiatorio – A Greek Tragedy In Never-Ending Acts

featuring added commentary by Marnie and Adele

When people think of “Third World” countries, Greece probably isn’t the first place that pops into their head. Beautiful ocean scapes with dazzling white churches and intense blue roofs (which incidentally, is usually a picture of Santorini,) olive groves, ocean breezes, endless antiquities, and in those BC times, beautiful Greeks frolicking amongst gods wearing scanty clothing, this is our general impression of Greece.

But economically, I believe Greece is still ranked as a third world country, and after years of pleading, I’m not certain if they have yet been invited to join the EU. I mention this because when you visit Greece you realize that things there don’t often function up to “western standards,” and many people live in poverty, even in wonderful resort environments where tourism abounds. But enough on poverty, after all, this is a “fun” website, right?

The malfunctions are worth mentioning again, however, as they have much to do with our recent evening at Eleni’s Estiatorio. I remember staying in this beautiful brand new hotel on a hill overlooking the port and windmills of Mykonos, and trying to open the large glass door between our room and the deck over the pool, and having the entire door, as well as part of the door frame, come off in our hands, sort of like one of those candid camera moments (put it back, and hope no one notices.) Or being picked up at the port of Santorini by the owner of the hotel we were staying at in Fira, and being afraid to even get into his car, this tiny old, beat up Renault where all of our immense luggage was strapped to the roof with slender little bungee cords, and where we barely made it up the steep winding road dodging water trucks, gigantic buses, and struggling donkies ridden by tourists between ferry and hotel. Many of the rural roads on the islands look like they were probably paved using a garden rake, and if you rent a car you could get an old beat up Izuzu (hey, what happened to Izuzu anyway?) with no top, no seat belts, about one door with a handle that actually works (it’s good there’s no roof,) and maybe if you are lucky that day, some working headlights (but don’t count on windshield wipers. I remember during a cloud burst trying to clear a peekaboo spot with a candy wrapper or something.) And although I’m not exactly famously agile, I don’t remember falling down quite so many times in a foreign country (although Mexico is close,) because of bad footing below I was always tumbling down amongst the antiquities, and many tourist areas feature gigantic drop offs without ropes where you could tumble to your death at any moment.

To be honest, though, it doesn’t really matter, because Greece is a really fun sort of country, it just doesn’t function particularly smoothly. It’s all about sun, and relaxation, and joy, and embracing life. Greek men have terrible tempers, and even if they barely know you they will scream and swear at you, but they are also intensely kind, and will befriend you at a moment’s notice (once their temper tantrum has ended.) They dance and sing and gulp Ouzo and throw plates. What’s not to like about that?

It was relatively amazing to me when I was in Greece, how many people knew the West Coast, and Oregon, and Portland in particular. Most Greeks under the age of 60 seem to speak English, and they always ask where you are from. I met countless people who had visited Portland, and loved it. I mention this because by and large, we have so little Greek food and fewer decent Greek restaurants. Sure, we roll out that Greek Festival once a year, but are there really that many Greeks in Portland? And if they are here, where do they eat? Surely they don’t eat at home all the time. It’s easy to give it two seconds thought and then name off most of the major Greek places in Portland, there’s Alexis, Jimmy Maks, Berbati’s, Demetri’s, that scary Deli on E. Burnside, the Greek Cuisina (yikes!!!) and the two Eleni outposts. Am I missing anything? Why can’t we have better Greek food here, since Portland seems to be a place so many Grecian people know and love. WHY, WHY. WHY!!!!

Middling food or not, off Restaurant Roulette went to the second Eleni’s outpost for our most recent dinner, this being Eleni’s Estiatorio in Sellwood. In November of 2006 I had taken a group of 13 to Eleni’s Pholoxenia in the Pearl, and while only about two thirds of the people had enjoyed their food, the dinner went relatively well, the kitchen was a bit spotty delivering appetizers, and service was only moderate, but 13 can be quite a table full on a busy Friday night. I thought for my second Greek RR dinner I would do the other Eleni’s, after all, where else could I really take my discerning folk? Jimmy Maks is more of a nightclub, Demetri’s is tiny, Alexis is a dump (a famous dump though,) and the Greek Cuisina, don’t even joke about things like that. I’d always heard that Philoxenia had the better food, and Eleni’s the more pleasant atmosphere, but to be honest, I found that comment a tad confusing. Both restaurants have the same owner, and they share a menu, why would one be so superior to the other when it came to level of food quality? (more…)

Eleni's Philoxenia logoOur best attended Restaurant Roulette evening came to a close after approximately 2.5 hours. Our group of twelve were the last patrons in Philoxenia at closing. After this meal, I reached certain conclusions: a dinner with twelve people is a long dinner (that’s good,) a table with twelve people will probably receive so-so service, especially if waited on by primarily one server, and a table of twelve people will have an extremely difficult time figuring our their part of the bill, especially when the bill is all in Greek and the lighting is poor.

Although it wasn’t easy with such a long narrow table, I tried to keep track of much of the food that was ordered for this review. Some of the appetizer type items that came to my attention included: Dolmathakia (stuffed grape leaves (very leafy in this case;) marinated grilled calamari with lemon vinaigrette (seemingly the evening’s most enjoyed item;) celery root salad??, tiger prawns (more like kitty prawns;) and filo dough filled with a blend of Greek cheese and mint and spinach (there seemed to be a deep fried version of this and a braised version of this, I liked the braised version better.) For entrees people indulged in pasta with mussels, clams, prawns and scallops; pasta with salmon, nutmeg, cognac and cream tomato sauce; pasta with walnuts, pine nuts, garlic and dill; orzo with seasonal forest mushrooms, pancetta and sage; rack of lamb; a halibut special; mousakka; filo dough stuffed with lamb, tomato and cheese; and one inventive individual, Feta Me Filo, feta cheese baked in filo dough with Ouzo, served with honey (dinner and dessert, all in one!) There were three disappointed indivuduals at the table when orders were placed, two because all of the bunny had already hopped away, and one (me) because they had taken my favorite entree off of the menu, grilled chicken with red pepper yogurt sauce. We all survived though, and judging by all the sharing and the $614 bill, no one left the restaurant hungry.

Between engaging in as many conversations as possible, trying food, and keeping track of what was ordered, I really had no idea if people liked their food and the restaurant. Because of this, I solicited opinions of RR members to tell me what they thought. Here is what people kindly sent me: